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We Are Flying Solo

March 10, 2013

Flat Out Flat Walkin'

Oh yeah, he really wanted to work.  Great pillow, dude.
"Are you riding Solo today?"

The BO's question came as I finished a surprisingly nice ride on Encore and was basking in the t-shirt worthy sunshine before heading up the hill.

"If you want, I have another one for you to ride otherwise," he said hopefully.     

My curiosity was piqued.  My horses are quite the exception at our farm, which is a training and breeding facility for flat-shod TN Walking Horses and Spotted Saddle Horses.  BO and his clients show the pleasure and versatility (yes, with gaited dressage and jumping!) circuit around the southeast -- or as he calls it, "the sound horse circuit," having long since gotten fed up with the unethical training and sored horses of the padded horse world.

I was in the mood to try something new, as long as it didn't try to buck me off.  BO rides many training horses a day and I knew he'd also welcome some help between teaching and riding.  So I slipped a halter on the curiously named Treat (which due to a sharpie slip on his stall card, is now jokingly called least I hoped it was a joke), a rangy little seven-year-old light chestnut with big eyes and a wide blaze, and led him up to my trailer.

I grew up in Saddlebred country, although I did not ride them, so gaited horses are hardly a mystery.  But since they are generally discouraged from trotting and, after 30 years, I find posting akin to breathing, they're just not my thing.  But both the Saddlebreds and TWHs always impressed me with their tolerance, patience, good-mindedness, and heart, even in questionable situations.

Naturally, as I picked up a brush, Threat spotted his pasture friends, ripped the rope of the side of the trailer and took off at a stunning elevated trot, complete with flagged tail, leaving me slightly less excited about this experiment.

Our 30+ crowd, Wildfire and Mama Donkey, were unimpressed by hijinks.
Let's just skip ahead 15 minutes, past the part where he managed to wedge his lead rope between a hind shoe and his foot and I had to cut/vice-grip it out after finally cornering him in an alley so I could even catch him and take his fun away.  Well, he did have some VERY impressive movement...

I put him in Solo's dressage saddle and spare bridle, with a Happy Mouth boucher, as BO said he was fine with anything (to my great relief, I would not have to ride in a Western saddle, as they leave me sore, off-balance, and apologizing to my knees).  Then I got on, took a soft feel of his mouth, and said, "Erm.  Go, horsey."

All I really knew is what I have observed.  BO trains all his horses and students very well, encouraging riding the horse from his hind end to create impulsion, connecting the inside hind leg to the outside rein, balancing with a half halt so the horse cannot lean on you, and moving the hips and shoulders laterally to lift and connect the horse through his body.  Sound familiar?

So off horsey went.  Still enthusiastic from his romp, he stepped off at a smart flat walk.  Still annoyed at his naughtiness, I said, "Fine, but you're going to work at it," and asked him to stay soft and connected in the bridle and moving up with his hind legs.

Within a minute, I could tell he was very educated and light to the hand and leg.  We transitioned among walk, flat walk, and canter (I couldn't figure out how to find running walk) and while he preferred to cheat and lean on me when he could, it was merely because he was quite out of shape and lacking muscle in his topline and butt due to lolling about in his pasture.  When I sat down and informed him he would move up and connect, he did.

He was bright and fun to ride as I explored his buttons.  I ran out of things to do as my brain got tired and gave him lots of breaks when he got winded, although, holy cow, he recovered his breath in about two minutes each time! 

It was a fun romp on "the other side of the fence," and I had to giggle when BO said, "Hey, good job!" --  I replied, "I'm just letting him do whatever it is he's doing, he's the trained one," and BO exclaimed, "Well, that's how you learn!"  If he has a secret plot to convert me, I'm afraid it's destined for failure; my big orange trotting, leaping horses captured my heart forever.   

However, I always relish learning more and developing as a horseman.  Every horse we sit on has something to teach and I thrive on variety.  BO himself is a tactful rider with an excellent seat, impeccable timing, and a soft hand -- I envy his consistency on the horse and will never pass up a chance to develop that! 

Will there be more four-beating in my future?  Well, I hope not on my horses (naughty!) but on those long, sunny weekends where I'm searching for excuses not to go home?  You won't find me saying no to a catch ride.
It was just the right kind of day for...

...synchronized sleeping.


  1. As the owner of a MFT with about 17 gears, I have come to appreciate the range of motion in a gaited horse. However, if you're not used to all the shifts, it's sort of like riding a spider - you're never quite sure where all the legs are going and when. But it sure can be fun to zoom down the trail while barely being jarred - so comfortabuls!

    And I love the synchronized snoozing pics! Too cute!

  2. I enjoy variety as well! Eventing has captured my heart for the long haul, but I love to learn. Sounds like a fun ride!

  3. How fun! I've never sat on a gaited horse and really haven't even been around them.

    Love the synchronized sleepers. Too funny!

  4. My first experience with a gaited horse was when I went to go test ride Moonlight for my daughter. I was working with him for a little while and went back to the owner and said what is wrong with this horse he doesn't seem to trot?? She of course laughed and said that is because he doesn't. Needless to say that in all my years in a hunter barn I was never exposed to a gaited horse and at 29 found out they exsisted. But I did grow to love that sound mindedness for my daughter and he is our "everyone can ride" horse.

  5. jenj, I have no idea where his legs were going, LOL!

    They are definitely generous horses - most of ours can trot, they are just not encouraged to. But when playing in the pasture, some surprising steps can appear!

  6. So good to hear a story about TWH people who enjoy sound horses. Hurray for them!

  7. Your barn owner sounds like a great guy! I've never actually ridden a TWH and think it would be fun.

  8. Amanda, they definitely take great care of their horses and do right by them. It's actually the first farm I've ever stayed at since I moved north of Raleigh that I have had nothing to worry about -- it's quite an odd, yet refreshing feeling!

    Texas, he and his partner are both excellent people and I feel so lucky to have found them! I know when I am not there, my boys are in the best hands I could ask for.

  9. First of all, I think it is WONDERFUL that you landed at a "good" TWH barn. The more attention responsible, flat-shoeing horse owners get the better. As much as I deplore the Big-Lick (and there really is NOTHING I hate more in the horse world), I do know there are many more people who enjoy and appreciate their TWHs au naturel. Your BO sounds fantastic!

    I had never ridden a gaited horse until a year ago, when I took the family trail riding at a ranch in SE Missouri. I was mounted on a Missouri Fox Trotter, and it was a BLAST. Thoroughly enjoyed myself and my knees didn't protest nearly as much as usual after an hour and a half in a Western saddle! Like you, I'm not ready to switch disciplines, but it was definitely an eye-opening experience. Glad you are getting to experiment!